Entrepreneurs line up to try their hand at mining asteroids
Deep Space Industries, Inc, announced plans to send a fleet of asteroid-prospecting to target asteroids in 2015
The first step in mining asteroids is to learn more about them. DSI aims to launch a fleet of FireFlies in 2015 to prospect promising near-Earth asteroids, determining properties such as their composition and spin rate.
When Planetary Resources announced their plans to mine asteroids last April, there were plenty of naysayers — just take a gander at the commenters responding to our article at the time! But following the announcement, billionaire investors hopped on board. And now another entrepreneurial company is heating up the competition. …
Deep Space’s grand plan comes in three parts. The first stage is the FireFly fleet (a name sure to warm the heart of any Joss Whedon fan), three spacecraft scheduled for launch in 2015. These 25-kg (55-lb), laptop-sized probes will carry imaging equipment to examine the composition, spin rate, and other properties of promising near-Earth asteroids. To take advantage of their small size, the FireFlies will utilize technology developed for CubeSats, mini-satellites (no more than 1.3 kg) designed to piggyback on the launch of commercial satellites. …
The aggressive schedule puts the first DragonFly launch in 2016. (That success might herald the company’s IPO, suggests David Gump, the company’s CEO.) But returning hundreds of pounds of asteroid is only the beginning. The DragonFly will be succeeded by the Harvestor, a true asteroid-mining spacecraft that will require a major launch vehicle to make it into space and will return thousands of tons of space-rock per year, starting as early as 2020.
A key point of Deep Space’s master plan is that the material they mine won’t go back to Earth. At most, it’ll go to low-Earth orbit, where volatiles will be used to refuel aging communication satellites, and rare metals can be used in space-based manufacturing. Material is expensive to launch into space (about $10,000 per kg), so a typical asteroid worth $4,000 on Earth’s surface would be worth $1 million in orbit, estimates Mark Sonter, a member of Deep Space’s board of directors.
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